The Millennial Gap: If you code it, they will come

150 150 Caroline Vance

After learning that many of my educated and employed friends chose not to vote in California’s first ever top two primary election last week, I decided to get back to the basics. Voting 101: before you can vote, you must be registered to vote.

As a true Millennial from election cycle to election cycle, I have been known to post updates to Facebook letting my friends and followers know about upcoming deadlines for registration. The most helpful link that directs to every county registrar’s office in the state is this one from the Secretary of State.

However, when my friends actually do take the time to follow the link and check out the application I hear this frustration expressed – wait I have to PRINT and MAIL this?! And then (like so many other Californians) they don’t…. 

This is the generation that gave birth to the term “slacktivism,” afterall. There is better example than the anti-KONY campaign that swept through Facebook like a tornado and generated a gazillion shares without any follow-up beyond the instant gratification of clicking and feeling good about it.

But forget the philosophical. Logistical barriers to registration are especially a problem for Millennials who tend to move more and therefore need to update their registration more often to maintain eligibility. Anyone who has lived in a college dorm or participated in a campus “Get Out The Vote” campaign knows the importance of re-registering college students each year because of their transient nature. 

However, accessibility to the registration process in California is about to change. 

At a recent PPIC event in San Francisco Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that California is on track to allow online voter registration. California will be only the 11th state to do so. SB 397 (Yee) allows the state to begin registering voters online ahead of a new statewide voter database. It directs state election officials and the Department of Motor Vehicles to match registration information submitted online with DMV records containing an electronic copy of a voter’s signature.

A PEW Center on the States study evaluating online voter registration implementation in Washington and Arizona found that “demographically, differences exist between voters who register online and those who register via the traditional methods. In both Arizona and Washington, Internet registrants tend to be much younger, 55 percent under 40 in Arizona and 60 percent under age 34 in Washington”.

It certainly isn’t surprising that a generation reared on Napster, Facebook and Skype that banks, works and socializes online would be more apt to register online. What is potentially game changing is the fact that the PEW study found in both states surveyed that younger online registrants were actually more likely to vote than their traditionally registrant counterparts. 

Let’s break this down for California in 2012. In a Presidential election year where there are already 12 qualified statewide initiatives on the ballots – online registration will be available to the “Facebook” generation. And if CA follows WA and AZ – those online registered Millennial voices will make a loud cry at the ballot box. 

The one question remaining: What will they say?


Caroline Vance

All stories by: Caroline Vance